“Be Thou My Vision”

"But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30)

     INTRO.: An old hymn which refers to Jesus Christ as our wisdom is "Be Thou My Vision." The text has its roots in an anonymous, ancient Irish folk hymn, "Rob tu mo bhoile, a Comdi cride," probably from the eighth century, dating to around 750, although it is sometimes attributed to Dallan Forgaill who was born around 530 in Magh Slecht, County Cavan, Ireland, and became widely known as the chief Christian poet of Ireland.  Studying so intently that he literally became blind from writing poetry and reading, he reformed the Bardic Order and thus helped to preserve the Gaelic literature. Several eulogies on the subject of contemporary Irish "saints" have also been attributed to him, such as the Amra Choluim Chille for Columba, Amra Senain for Senan, and Amra Connaill for Connall.

     These poems were of such obscure language that they have rarely been translated and often include copious glosses by subsequent scribes.  Dallan was martyred in 598 when pirates broke into the island monastery of Inniskeel at Donegal and beheaded him. The poem was translated into English by Mary Elizabeth Byrne (1880-1931). An Irish linguist who attended the University of Ireland, she translated the lines from Gaelic into English prose in 1905 for Volume II of the Irish periodical Erin.  Seven years later, they were versified by Eleanor Henrietta Hull (1860-1935). An English-born Irish author and researcher with passion was Gaelic culture who was a member of the Irish Text Society and Irish Literary Society of London, she included the poem in her 1912 Poem Book of the Gael published by Chatto and Windus Ltd.

     Its first hymnbook appearance was in the 1927 Church Hymnary, published at Edinburgh, Scotland, although some sources give the 1919 Irish Church Hymnal. The tune (Slane) is a traditional Irish melody of folk origin. It is taken from Patrick W. Joyce’s Old Irish Folk Music and Songs of 1909, where it is set to the secular song, "With my love on the road." The adaptation for use with the hymn was made in 1925 by Martin Shaw (1875-1958). The modern harmonization was made by David Evans (1874-1948). This was first published in the 1927 Church Hymnary.  Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1975 Supplement to the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 originally edited by E. L. Jorgenson. Today it may be found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand.

     The song uses several terms to identify who and what Jesus Christ is to His followers.

I. Stanza 1 calls Him our Vision
"Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art,
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light."
 A. "Vision" in the Bible is not the idea of prudent foresight which plans well for the future, but the idea of revelation from God: Prov.
 B. Jesus Christ is our Vision who reveals God to us and to whom every thought should be brought captive: 2 Cor. 10:5
 C. Therefore, whether waking or sleeping, we should seek His presence in our lives: Matt. 28:20

II. Stanza 2 calls Him our Wisdom
"Be Thou my Wisdom, and (or–be) Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee, and Thou with me, Lord.
Thou my great Father, (and) I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one."
 A. Jesus Christ is both the Power of God and the Wisdom of God: 1 Cor. 1:24-25
 B. Because He imparts to us wisdom as a father seeks to impart wisdom to his children, Christ is like a great Father to us: Isa. 9:6
 C. Therefore, we should seek to have His dwelling in us by faith: Eph. 3:18

III. Stanza 3 calls Him our Shield
"Be Thou my Battleshield, (or–Buckler, my; or–Shield, and my) Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight.
Thou my soul’s Shelter, (and) Thou my high Tower,
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power."
 A. As the Lord, Jesus Christ is our Shield to protect us in battle: Ps. 33:20
 B. Also, He is our Sword in that His word is sharper than any two edged sword: Heb. 4:12
 C. And He is our Power, which is revealed to us in the gospel: Rom. 1:16

IV. Stanza 4 calls Him our Inheritance
"Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;
Thou my (or–mine) Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, (be) first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art."
 A. The riches of this life are of no satisfying or lasting value: 1 Tim. 6:9-10
 B. Jesus Christ is the only worthwhile Inheritance, and He offers us an inheritance which is eternal: Heb. 9:15
 C. Therefore, we must make sure that we seek Him first and our treasure is laid up in heaven: Matt. 6:33, 7:19-20

V. Stanza 5 calls Him our King
"High King of heaven, my victory (or–when victory is) won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my (own) heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all."
 A. Jesus Christ is the High King of heaven: Rev. 17:14
 B. He alone can bring us victory from God: 1 Cor. 15:57
 C. Therefore, we must make Him our Ruler by believing in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead and confessing Him as Lord: Rom. 10:9-10

     CONCL.:  Apparently, different editors have made various alterations in the text, attempting to make the words fit better with the music.  One writer said, "This hymn is as Irish as the family names of O’Driscoll, O’Sullivan, O’Reilly, Murphy, McGrath, O’Donahue, and O’Shea. It comes from the land where the grass grows green on the hillside and the peat smoke hangs low in the valley. In these lines there is a hint of the soft, sometimes throaty sound of Gaelic speech, with its lilting rhythm of expressive ancient Irish phrases." Another has said, "This eighth-century, anonymous, Irish hymn text expresses, in the quaint Celtic style, the ageless need of man to have a heavenly vision and to experience God’s care and personal presence throughout this earthly pilgrimage." It is a shame that this hymn has not been included in more of our books, because I certainly need to call upon the Lord to "Be Thou My Vision."


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